Course Schedule Pieces

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Some concluding ideas about Happiness and Wisdom

  • 1. Happiness “evolves,” but evolution isn’t about happiness.
  • 2. The bite of reality is lessen by understanding necessity and by our own psychological “tool kits.”
  • 3. The future is a problem.
  • 4. We often miss opportunities for happiness, but then, it’s a moving target.
  • 5. Wisdom is a real capacity that we can cultivate through both cognitive and affective skills.

Gilbert, Chapter 4: In the Blind Spot of the Mind's Eye

  • Gilbert, C4, “In the Blind Spot of the Mind’s Eye” (21)
  • Comparisons of Adolph Fisher & George Eastman. Point: Need to 2nd guess how we impose seemingly objective criteria on others' lives.
  • Just because it's easier for us to imagine that a certain kind of future will bring happiness, and what we imagine might even be in line with objective research, it doesn't follow that other futures won't.
  • Brain reweaves experience: study with cars and stop signs/yield signs. Information acquired after the event alters memory of the event.
  • Two highly confirmed results: Memory fills in. We don't typically notice it happening. Word list excercise. 80 -- literal and metaphorical blindspots. experiments with interrupted sentences. We fill in.
  • Model of Mind (84) Prior to 19th century:
"Philosophers had thought of the senses as conduits that allowed information about the properties of objects in the world to travel from the object and into the mind. The mind was like a movie screen in which the object was rebroadcast. The operation broke down on occasion, hence people occasionally saw things as they were not. But when the senses were working properly, they showed what was there. This theory of realism was described in 1690 by the philosopher John Locke: brains "believe" they don't "make believe" .
  • Model of Mind brought in with Kant at beginning of 1800's:
Kant's idealism: "Kant's new theory of idealism claimed that our perceptions are not the result of a physiological process by which our eyes somehow transmit an image of the world into our brains but rather, they are the result of a psychological process that combines what our eyes see with what we already think, feel, know, want, and believe, and then uses this combination of sensory information and preexisting knowledge to construct our perception of reality. "
  • false belief test -- [1] [As we develop, we acquire "theory of mind" and the capacity to enter the subjective space of others. Interestingly, it's hard to enter our own (strangers to ourselves) and our future selves.
  • Still, we act like realists: truck moving study-- we are first realists, but we learn to adopt an idealist perspective in social communication.
  • We experience the world as if our interpretations were part of reality. We do not realize we are seeing an interpretation.
  • We fill in details: imagine a plate of spaghetti. Very important for thinking about how we fill in the future. We carry out the exercise of imagining, and even make estimates of satisfaction, but the result depends upon which of the family of experiences picked out by "plate of spaghetti" we have in mind.
  • point for happiness theories: p. 89.
  • closes by giving you the narratives that make sense of the Fisher/Eastman comparison.

Gilbert, 7, Time Bombs (127-133)

Space, Time and Future Preferences

  • Hedonic adaptation (also, hedonic treadmill) -- the declining marginal utility of addition units of consumption, all other factors being equal --
  • We spatialize time because it's an abstract thing and thinking of its spatially helps make it concrete. But Gilbert thinks this leads to mistakes in "affect forecasting" - predicting how you will feel about a hedonic in the future.
  • False prediction of future pleasure -- p. 130 study on snack predictions. (no variety condition happier)
  • Gilbert's hedonic adaptation thought experiment -- Imagine you are preordering from a restaurant for the next few weeks.
  • favoring assumption (how much you like each dish)
  • habituation rate assumption (how quickly pleasure declines or habituates)
  • consumption rate. (the time scale of the consumption)
  • See diagrams
  • Gilbert's partial point -- variety has a cost… [But it doesn't follow that it's not in your happiness-interest to pay it sometimes.]
  • Slogan for the day: "Pleasure isn't linear."

My Philosophy of Happiness and Wisdom Paper

  • In this 8-10 page paper you are invited to construct an integrated philosophy of wisdom and happiness. You should start by identifying topics and themes in the course that spoke to you. You should also bring in personal frames of reference, such as faith commitments, that may inform your thinking even if they were not treated in the course. The ultimate goal is for you to integrate your views on happiness and wisdom by thinking also about how they are related, but you may organize your paper into two main sections, one each on happiness and wisdom, and then try to bring them together in your conclusion.
  • Due date: December 15th, 2021.

18: NOV 8 - 6. More Philosophical Paradigms for Happiness and Wisdom


  • Hall C7 “Compassion” (18)
  • Siderits, “Early Buddhism: Basic Teachings” (16)


  • Introduction to Buddhism

Hall, Chapter 7: Compassion

  • Story of the seige of Weinsberg, 12 century.
  • [Puzzle to solve by the end of this review of the chapter: Is compassion worth it? Why would I want to share someone's pain? Why not just make an intellectual acknowledgement of it and send a card?]
  • anecdote on the siege of Weinsberg, 1140.
  • "By compassion is meant not only the willingness to share another person's pain and suffering; in a larger sense, it refers to a transcendent ability to step outside the moat of one's own self-interest to understand the point of view of another; in a still larger sense, it may take this "feeling for" to the level of mind reading, for the theory of mind — one of the most powerful implements that evolution placed in the human cognitive tool kit—requires us to understand the way another person's feelings inform his or her intentions and actions." 116 Connecting compassion to research on theory of mind. Note claim at the end of the paragraph: Compassion might be thought of as a source of a variety of moral emotions and behaviors.
  • note the contrast with Plato, as exemplified by Socrates behavior in the Phaedo. Icy Socrates!
  • Weisskopf: Knowledge without compassion inhumane. Compassion without knowledge ineffective. 118 (Note heuristic!)
  • Matthieu Ricard and Richard Davidson studies. Some of the first neural studies of meditative and prayer states. “Ok, Matthieu, now do compassion.” (no overarching theory here, but note Davidson on p. 121) Davidson believes in possibility of "training" toward increased well being. Richard over 10,000 hours.
  • 2008 study: some repeated and localized effects across test subjects, even novice. 121
  • Ricard: gloss on wisdom at 121, connection to Buddhism: two parts: 1. discerning reality and 2. selecting opportunity for compassion) also makes the case, on 122, that compassion is based on an understanding of how things are connected, how happiness and suffering are connected. Knowing that there are ways to address suffering fuels compassion, which also helps us understand how things are connected. Once you are not suffering, you are in a better position to extend compassion to others, so the Buddhist analysis of suffering is central. (The Christian has a parallel analysis, but it’s not really focused on suffering in the same way. Early Christian communities…)
  • general point: importance in this research of thinking of compassion as having a neural substrate and a function in our psychology. But also suggestive of Davidson's thesis that responses can be trained.
  • Also, self-compassion. Dali Lama. 123
  • 126: mirror neurons and empathy. (Some notes on the limits of this on the basis of subsequent research. Sapolsky really throws cold water on the hype (cf. 128) around mirror neurons. Probably Theory of Mind is a better construct.)
  • 128: notion of "embodiedness" of our responses to the world. (More promising.). not just cognitive. Dolan's lab, research suggesting that localization of pain at suffering of loved ones in anterior cigulate cortex and insular cortex.
  • 130: Richerson and Boyd's cultural hypothesis: imitation - learning - division of labor - other centeredness. All capacities that require a "theory of mind" which includes feeling other's emotions. Theory of mind refers to a set of capacities, but also a way of seeing the world. (Recall baby helper puppet studies.). This line of research is more in line with Henrich, WEIRDEST People.
  • empathy research - compassion training programs. 131.
  • Wisdom implications: Is cultivation of compassion on your wisdom to do list? Why or why not?
  • Interesting that most Am. therapies are cognitive. We tend to think of emotions as “outputs” rather than also as ways of knowing the world that might be open to manipulation.

Introduction to Buddhism (from wikipedia)

  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it.
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. (see above and in Feuerstein.)

Division Eightfold Path factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

- from wikipedia.

Siderits, Chapter 2, "Early Buddhism: Basic Teachings"

  • Background on Buddha
  • note heterodoxy, intro/dev karmic theory (and theory of liberation from rebirth), moral teaching ind. of focus on ritual and deities.
  • consensus on "moksa" as goal of enlightenment. Buddha's teaching one of many.
  • Siderits presents sramanas as critical and questioning of heterodoxy.
  • What is the Happiness & Wisdom "basic argument" in Buddhism: Because of the way that we enmeshed in our existence (through "dependent origination", we are fundamentally ignorant of our true selves and this ignorance causes avoidable suffering. The purpose of the "buddhist training program" (8 fold path) is to overcome this ignorance, not only at an intellectual level, but through the way we know the world through our emotions.
  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
1. Normal pain. Decay, disease, death. (Flip to Pali Canon, p. 51)
2. Suffering from ignorance of impermanence. Including ignorance of no-self. Suffering from getting what you want or don't want. (Cognitive illusion of permanence.)
3. Suffering from conditions and attachments. "Existential Suffering" Rebirth itself is a form of suffering. (So belief in rebirth doesn't solve the problem of suffering in one life. 21: Rebirth entails re-death. The thought of rebirth is a reminder of the impermanence we wish to escape.) Includes questioning since of purpose in face of indifferent universe (or lack of evidence thereof). (Making this point by thinking about how evolution enmeshes us in processes that we are sometimes unaware or partially aware of. Example: [2] Nature is more interested in successful "attachments" than even our awareness of or happiness about those attachments.)
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
Theory of Dependent Origination [3]: Note the chain of causal connection ("Engine of Reincarnation") advanced on p. 22 of Siderits: ignorance ultimately causes suffering, but the intermediate steps are important. Let's give a psychological reading of this metaphysical chain of causation. (compare to Pali Canon, p. 52)
  • Rough sequence: ignorance of the reality of self, volitions, consciousness, sentience, sense organs, sensory stimulation, feeling, desire, appropriation, becoming, birth (rebirth), aging and death.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it. "It is the utter cessation and extinction of that craving, its renunciation, its forsaking, release from it, and non-attachment to it." (from Pali Canon reading)
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. importance of meditation (p. 24) -- negative states of mind have causal consequences. philosophy needed to work with the ideas and moments of self-reflectiveness that meditation generates. (25)
  • Cessation of suffering: meditation, (non)self-discovery.
  • Need to assess this recommended "training program" more in light of Discourse on Mindfulness and the Eight Fold path (See wiki page Noble Eight Fold Path)
  • Note discussion of meditation, p. 25. Basic theory for mindfulness meditation exercise.
  • Liberation - enlightenment is marked by the cessation of new karma.
  • rejection of presentism (claim that key to insight to get used to impermanence) and annihilationism as models for liberation.
  • paradox of liberation: how can you desire liberation if liberation requires relinquishment of desire. Possible solution: to desire the end of suffering.
  • Psychologically, liberation might understood today as positive identity change -- The desire to be liberated might less a desire to get something for your current self as to become another self, one that acts effectively in the world without ego attachment.
  • Problem following the consequences of "non-self": Buddhist maxim: "Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference."

19: NOV 10


  • Pali Cannon, “The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness” (16) (rec)
  • Ricard, C6, “The Alchemy of Suffering” (20)

Pali Canon, Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness

  • "Mindfulness is also the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path. By developing mindfulness, a person first observes the various aspects of one's being,then learns to control the mind and its reactions to external and internal stimuli." Mindfulness presumes a moral orientation on the world.
  • Basic goals of meditation: cultivation of awareness and "control" of sense and feeling. (Control: quieting, not being at the mercy of psychological processes and processes of desire.) How does meditation do that?
  • Four foundations of mindfulness, five aggregates of attachment, six bases of sense, seven factors of enlightenment, four noble truths (51),
  • Some Points:
  • Mindfulness not disconnection from environment, but intense connection, especially if one can control the mental processes that interrupt one's full experience.
  • Note use of lists and repetition. inventories.
  • Note "joy and happiness born of detachment" 57
  • Small Group Discussion (please use the Google group form to report your work):
  • Considering Buddhism primarily as a psychological theory of suffering and happiness, what are some of its keys insights according to its adherents? (3-4) How is mindfulness supposed to help us avoid suffering and promote joy? What are you most skeptical about in thinking of Buddhism as a happiness philosophy? Does your group worry, for example, that that egolessness Buddhism calls for might make it hard to be ambitious?

Chapter Six: Alchemy of Suffering (Modern version of 4 noble truths)

  • Shortest history of the kingdom: "They Suffer"
  • Pervasive suffering -- from growth and development. “What’s won is done.”
  • Suffering of Change -- from illusion of permanence. “Moving targets”
  • Multiplicity of Suffering -- suffering from awareness of the many ways things can go wrong. (An example of suffering due our big brain imaginations.)
  • Hidden Suffering -- anxiousness about hidden dangers (same)
  • Note connection to Gilbert: because we can "next" (imagine futures and alternate presents, design) we are open to these kinds of suffering. Quite a bargain.
  • Invisible Suffering -- as in the food industry, suffering of workers to bring you cheap socks. A consequence of invisible suffering is that we repeat the behaviors that lead to it because we don't see it (also food examples. Suffering in your egg or burger.). (Complicity in causing/perpetuating suffering. Moral causation.)
  • Suffering is ubiquitous, but we can learn the causes. Suffering can be avoided "locally" (as entropy can be reversed locally). Note that Buddhism involves a consistent commitment to causation even as, over centuries, our understanding of it has changed.
  • Sources of Suffering -- self-centeredness, our unhappiness is caused, 4 Noble Truths.
  • A Buddhist tetra pharmakos: Recognize suffering, Eliminate its source, End it, By Practicing the Path. 66
  • 66: "One can suffer physically or mentally -- by feeling sad, for instance -- without losing the sense of fulfillment that is founded on inner peace and selflessness"
  • Buddhist story of woman distraught over loss, sent by Buddha to gather dirt from all houses without loss.
  • Note 67: parallel story as in stoicism. Read, “Remaining….”
  • brings in a dash of attachment theory 69-71. Hurt people hurt people.
  • Using suffering for spiritual growth. Example of people experiencing near death. (Mention research on cancer patients (survivors) and happiness.)
  • Methods for responding to suffering -- Control of sense and emotion. Meditation. Use of mental imagery. Mindful self-observation and reflection. (The training program.)
  • Some themes of a modern (scientifically oriented) Buddhist explication of the 4 Noble Truths:
  • Causal attitude toward suffering at the psychological more than metaphysical level. 65, 67; use of neurology to understand pain and related phen. 73
  • Positive aspects of suffering 71 -- suffering can be productive for spiritual dev.
  • Mental imagery in ancient and modern Buddhist practice; use of meditation in management of tendencies of ego. (Note to meditators. Use visualization to re-center and avoid the dynamics of conscious thought suppression.)
  • Use in stimulating positive and prosocial emotions: compassion, empathy. (stories of suffering endured with growth)
  • Note the emphasis on conscious use of methods that get at pre-conscious expression of emotion. The emotions are the "scene" for progress, not just a matter of rational control of emotions. more of a training model. While the meditations and use of mental imagery might seem a little far out to some of you, recall that this is being proposed within a naturalistic (evolutionary and neurological) model. He's making empirical predictions about how you can alter your responses to the conditions of your suffering.

Small Group Assessment

  • Buddhism makes the case that we cultivate wisdom and happiness by understanding and responding to suffering in a particular way. The understanding of suffering involves appreciating the complex causal patterns that perpetuate in. Suffering also emerges from our ignorance of the illusory or impermanent character of the self and the ego. The remedy involves cultivating this awareness and reflecting it in our life and actions toward others (the eight fold path).
  • This might lead you to a kind of dual standpoint, expressed in this popular Buddhist maxim: "Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.". For some of you, this is wisdom, for others, not so much.
  • In your small group discussion, consider the Buddhist analysis (maybe its modern reconstruction in terms of physics and psychology) of wisdom and happiness, as well as the "training program" it recommends, so far as you understand it. What parts of the program, if any, resonate for you?


  • Ricard, C7, “The Veils of the Ego” (16)
  • Miller, Barbara, “Introduction to Patanjali’s Yoga” (25)

Ricard, Chapter Seven: Veils of the Ego (modern version of "no self" doctrine)

  • Ego as a fear reaction to the world. reread 80. (Is it? Is this too strong? or wrong? note subclaim 83, note dispositions) consider evidence from everyday life: Children, social situations with peers. Needs to maintain the self in equilibrium with social reality, not just physical reality. Ego formation is not being contested here. It's a natural social psychological process. But by observing some of our characteristics biases in contructing the self, we can avoid some behaviors that lead to unhealthy suffering.
  • Consequence of typical ego formation is a sense of separateness.
  • Observing the ego at work: example of physical and moral pain, 84. example of the vase, the asymmetry of our response is a clue. This is the "fundamental attribution error" [4]
  • What to do with the Ego? -- here Ricard wants to separate healthy, self-confident development of a self (what Buddhists might teach their children) from egoism.
  • Problem: How can I live without an ego? R's response: true self-confidence is ego-less.
  • Cites Paul Ekman's studies of emotionally exceptional people. ego-less and joyful. The sense you can have that someone simply wouldn't hurt you and wants the best for you. Isn't satisfying any "neediness" on you.
  • Psychopaths, on the other hand, have huge egos.
  • The Deceptive Ego: Gives brief account of the illusion of self.
  • What is the best way think about our experience of "self" from a scientific and Buddhist point of view? Between a past and future that don't exist? 90: self a name we give to a continuum. A concept that refers to a dynamic process. The up side of this view of the self is that you can exert control on the influence that shape it. It's an illusion, but it's your illusion.
  • Attitude toward ultimate reality of things. 93 Some of Buddha's preferred metaphors for the self.

Some General Points on Yoga

  • samadhi - the goal of the spiritual practice of yoga; ecstasy, union; a mystical experience of enlightenment. mention connection to wisdom.
  • Yoga, defined in various ways, also in relation to Vedanta narrative. dualism and monism in yogic thought.
  • 3 periods pre-classical (or Vedanta), classical (Patanjali 2nd cent. CE), and post-classical (ex. Shankara, 8th cent). Important that Patanjali's period represents a dualist approach. Purusa / Prakrati. Spirit / Nature, roughly.
  • Teacher/disciple model.
  • Yoga is infused in multiple traditions: Hindu, Buddhist, and its own. Meditative figures on coins from 3,000 bc. Rig Veda has image of a yogi who, by achieving physical control through asanas (poses) and physical austerities (fasting, meditation, etc.) achieves access to a "deeper realm" of insights about reality.
  • Yoga in Bhagavad Gita (Miller 10): Arjuna, warrior, locked in battle with his own kin. Important conversation with Krishna. (Pre-classical) Like Homeric, Yoga has a history in warrior culture and warrior ethos (duty). (mention Antigone)

Miller, Yoga: Discipline of Freedom, Introduction

  • This is an introduction to her edition / translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
  • "The aim of yoga is to eliminate the control that material nature exerts over the human spirit, to rediscover through introspective practice what the poet T. S. Eliot called the "still point of the turning world." " This is a state of perfect equilibrium and absolute spiritual calm, an interior refuge in the chaos of worldly existence. In the view of Patanjali, yogic practice can break habitual ways of thinking and acting that bind one to the corruptions of everyday life."
  • basic analysis found in the "paradoxical nature of memory and thought itself" -- Our minds get us into trouble.
  • solitude and turning away from the world are only stages and strategies. not a renunciation philosophy.
  • Yoga is, fundamentally, an individual spiritual program. q. p 4 (ties in with meaning of "yoga" - spiritual yoke; discipline, but also integration of forces, like a yoke.
  • From Samkhya dualism: everything is a mix of prakrati and purusa. 13: "The basis of spiritual liberation in the Yoga school is a profound experience of the evolutionary process whereby spirit becomes enmeshed in material nature."
  • The Three Gunas (13): Lucidity (sattva), Passion (rajas), and inertia (tamas). Part of the problem of existence is that the faculties of understanding are material. Interesting difference from Western association of Reason with the Divine and Transcendent.
  • The psychology of Patanjali's yoga: follow Miller's discussion of thought process (17) (citta), "tyranny of uncontrollable thought," reducing thought "traces" or "seeds". goal to make thought "invulnerable" to the chaos of mental and physical stimuli. to do that, we need to attend to how the mind produces desire, anger and delusion.
  • In Patanjali:
  • First, there's a process of "unenlightenment" -- Purusa becomes bound to prakrati. Enlightenment is about undoing the this entanglement. (Note again connection with Buddhism). q. p. 19: Ignorance...
  • 1st Small group discussion activity:
  • Look for and share experiences you have had that might be examples of the kind of untanglement and amplification of thought and emotion that Patanjali was thinking about when he suggested we pursue "seedless" thought. In what circumstances do you find that thought "feeds on itself" or becomes persistent. How does social psychology and phenomena such as gossip or drama create such situations? What practical attitudes and behaviors (imagine scenarios) might a person influence by a yogic model of happiness pursue in such situations?

Donna Farhi, "Cleaning up Our Act: The Four Brahmavihara

  • Story of the deformed sage, Ashtavakra. Look beyond physical.
  • Five Kleshas in Patanjali:
  • 1. Avidha: Ignorance of our eternal nature
  • 2. Asmita: Seeing oneself as separate and divided from the rest of ??the world
  • 3. Raga: Attraction and attachment to impermanent things
  • 4. Dvesha: Aversion to the unpleasant
  • 5. Abhinivesha: Clinging to life because we fail to perceive the seamless continuity of consciousness, which cannot be broken by death (Yoga-Sutra 13)
  • Note that the first two have to do with identity and the last three with desire. Maybe there's a connection between how I'm thinking about myself (as a self) and my ability to manage desire?
  • Ashtanga Yoga -- eight fold program (from wikipedia):
Sanskrit English
Yama moral codes
Niyama self-purification and study
Asana posture
Pranayama breath control
Pratyahara sense control
Dharana intention
Dhyana meditation
Samadhi contemplation

  • note Fahri talks about "spiritual fitness". Does this make sense?
  • The Brahmavihara are four attitudes Patanjali recommends developing:
  • 1. Friendliness toward the joyful. (Slight envy issue, but this is the easiest one.)
  • 2. Compassion for those who are suffering (Easy to see a victim as a candidate for your compassion. Can you also see angry, anxious, or insecure people as in pain?)
  • 3. Celebrating the good in others -- Simpler in cases without invidious comparison.
  • 4. Remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others(Yoga-Sutra 1.33) - Challenging when those faults led to adverse treatment of you!
  • Notes on Brahmivihara:
  • Note Fahri's more "social" focus. The first three Brahmavihara take us outside of ourselves.
  • Compassion might involve the obvious, but also note leaving people "invisible" - reaching out. also "loving-kindness" meditation.
  • 3: cultivating a habit of spontaneous appreciate, noticing (and working on) any jealousy effects.
  • 4: note the "costs" of having an enemy. overcoming the need to fix situations.
  • 62: cultivating "metta" - loving kindness meditation.